Cobb waits to sign on dotted line

While it seems for many to be a foregone conclusion that the Green Bay Packers will re-sign wide receiver Randall Cobb, there’s at least one person who isn’t so sure that the free agent-to-be is a slam-dunk to be back in green and gold.

Randall Cobb.

As he stood in front of his half cleaned-out locker earlier this week, Cobb sounded like a man who was genuinely uncertain about his future. The same guy who’d said before the season began that he had a lot to prove before earning a contract extension went out and did just that in 2014, catching 91 passes for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns.  

And yet, when asked if he truly didn’t know if he’d be back, if the Packers viewed him as one of their core players whom they’d never let get away, Cobb shrugged.

“I haven’t signed on the dotted line yet,” he said after a pause. “So I can’t be for certain on anything. I can only take it day by day, and … that’s pretty much it.”

Cobb certainly learned that lesson last season. After leading the team in receptions (80) and receiving yards (954) in 2012, he suffered a fracture at the top of the tibia in his right leg on a low hit by Baltimore safety Matt Elam in an Oct. 13, 2013 victory over the Ravens and was placed on injured reserve with the designation to return.

And while he did return, catching a game-winning, last-minute 48-yard touchdown from quarterback Aaron Rodgers to beat Chicago in the regular-season finale and send the Packers to the playoffs, he finished the year with just 31 receptions for 433 yards and four touchdowns.

At the time of his injury, Cobb had caught 29 passes for 378 yards and two touchdowns through 4 1/2 games – his injury happened just before halftime against the Ravens – putting him on pace for 103 receptions for 1,344 yards and seven touchdowns over 16 games.

With Cobb sidelined and Greg Jennings having departed as a free agent, Jordy Nelson stayed healthy for all 16 games and went on to catch 85 passes for 1,314 yards and eight TDs. Nelson got a new extension at the start of training camp and went on to catch 98 passes for a franchise-record 1,519 yards with 13 TDs this season.

Now, the Packers must decide just how much they can afford to pay another topflight wide receiver.

“Over 90 catches, he stayed healthy, had over 1,200 yards. He had a phenomenal season,” Rodgers said of Cobb. “We can bring [him] back and hopefully have a better result next year.

“I like our team. I think we’ve just got to keep it together. We’ve got to find a way to add to it, like we do every year, and hold onto the guys that we’ve got. If we can do that and figure out our chemistry in the offseason, I think we can be a really dangerous team.”

Despite drafting three wide receivers last spring – second-round pick Davante Adams, fifth-round pick Jared Abbrederis and seventh-round pick Jeff Janis – the Packers were largely a two-receiver operation this season. While Cobb and Nelson combined to catch 189 passes for 2,806 yards and 25 touchdowns, the Packers’ other wide receivers had a combined 44 catches for 489 yards and three TDs: Adams led the way with 38 receptions for 446 yards (and all three scores), while Jarrett Boykin had three receptions for 23 yards, Janis had two for 16 yards and Kevin Dorsey had one for 4 yards. Abbrederis missed the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in training camp.

It’s hard to imagine Packers general manager Ted Thompson, who picked Cobb in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft, letting him walk – even if Thompson likes his young receivers’ potential – and leaving an in-his-prime Rodgers with Nelson and a bunch of kids. As one team source put it, “I just can’t see Ted letting him go.”

As for what Cobb might cost, or when a deal might get done, his negotiations may follow the path of cornerback Sam Shields. The Packers didn’t talk to Shields about an extension during the 2013 season – Cobb said in mid-December that no overtures had been made to agent Jimmy Sexton, even though Rodgers was outspoken in his support of re-signing Cobb that week – then got his four-year, $39 million deal done on the cusp of free agency. Cobb may not command quite as much – his deal could fall between Nelson’s (four years, $39 million, $11.5 million guaranteed) and the New York Giants’ Victor Cruz’s (five years, $43 million, $15.63 million guaranteed) in terms of average salary – but he will likely receive more guaranteed money than Nelson did, and

Cobb is the highest profile of the Packers’ 11 unrestricted free agents, but the team must also decide what it wants to do about right tackle Bryan Bulaga, cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Davon House, defensive tackles Letroy Guion and B.J. Raji and backup quarterbacks Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien, Decisions also loom on veteran outside linebacker Julius Peppers, who wants to return but will likely have to restructure to reduce his $12 million salary-cap number, and inside linebacker A.J. Hawk, whose playing time was down sharply during the second half of the season.

“I think I’ve made that obvious,” Cobb replied when asked if he wants to stay with the Packers. “But like I’ve said before, this is a business. You don’t know how it’s going to go, what direction it’s going to go in, so you just have to sit around. Hopefully I’ve put myself in position where it will handle itself. But only time can tell.”

For now, though, Cobb continues to come to grips with the Packers’ heartbreaking 28-22 overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game, in which the Seahawks overcame the biggest halftime deficit in a conference title game (16-0) to win in NFL history.

“I’m still trying to wrap my head around this game. I don’t know what to say, or how to go about it,” Cobb said. “I feel like there was still more out there to accomplish. Obviously when you look at how close we were to Arizona (for Super Bowl XLIX, that was my one and primary goal and not to be able to accomplish that, it definitely hurts. It definitely hurts the way that we went out.”